The Mermaid Rock Of Luna Beach
(a mermaid tale by Vicky Watt)
She had been caught between two worlds.
Once upon a time, before being turned to rock, the mermaid had loved to visit Luna Beach, a hidden treasure on Scotland's east coast. She would climb high up onto the cliffs, even above the birds that surfed through the sky, to watch the human fisher-folk below, as they moved busily through their days at the edge of the water. They lived in a simple, harmonious settlement, nestled in the dunes behind the beach. The mermaid admired them and enjoyed imagining what it might be like to live in their world, but, at the end of the day, she always returned to her own world beneath the waves.
The Mer-folk - the mermaid's own people of the sea - had often advised her to venture beyond the shoreline and cast off her tail forever, as many of her kind were doing. They wanted her to find a safer place, walking amongst the humans. They believed, as ancient legends had warned, that they were under threat from sea-farers who would come from distant lands. It was said that these men feared the mer-folk and their powers over the water. They would soon come and teach the local people to forget the old ways and their respect for the ocean. There were prophecies amongst the mer-folk of great webs that the humans would cast out across the water, trapping the sea creatures in their thousands, of unnatural carcasses that would multiply and drift through the depths for an eternity, thunder rising from the seabed so loud it could drown out whale song, and a black death that would creep across the surface, eventually bringing an end to all life in the oceans.
Yet, every time this mermaid considered venturing far from her beloved shores, she couldn't bring herself to do it. Her heart told her that her place was right here at Luna Beach. She couldn't believe that the humans she watched everyday would ever turn on her kind.
Then, one day, the comforting rhythm of her existence was disturbed. She had been bathing on top of a giant, isolated rock that rose dramatically out of the sand, just beyond the shadow of the cliffs. It was her favourite, secret place. Surveying the coast, with the crystal vision of a sea eagle, she spotted something very unusual on the horizon. As it moved closer, she saw the unmistakable black silhouette of a great boat, far bigger than any of those used by local fishermen. Despite the blue skies and sunshine, a chill coursed through her bones. She began to wonder if the prophecy of her people was coming true. Perhaps she should have listened more closely to the warnings of her elders. There was still time. Yet, she did not move. She questioned her future and all that she knew, until she was too exhausted to think of it anymore. She became hypnotised by the flickering light of the sun as it played upon the shallows. Her eyes grew heavier and she rested her head on the rock, unaware that as she fell into a deep sleep, a cloud was stretching towards the shore and casting a shadow on the sparkling sea.
When the mermaid awakened, she felt numb. A great ice storm had gripped the ocean. The rain, falling like shards of glass, had turned her legs back into a fish tail, but the tide was still far out. She was almost frozen to the rock. The storm raged all around the coastline. Waves like the tails of great sea monsters whipped against rocky cliffs that flanked the crescent moon beach, edging closer with the incoming tide, threatening to consume the little bothies and fisher-families inside.
The mermaid knew that if the powerful swell rolled inland she would be caught up in it and taken back to the safety of the ocean depths but the people of Luna Beach would certainly perish.
Looking down from her rocky vantage point, towards her cherished home at the meeting point of sky, sand and sea, she finally glimpsed her own destiny.
Taking a long, deep breath of cold, sharp air, the mermaid began to call out. She created a single high-pitched note, an almost musical sound that might have been beautiful, had it not been so piercing. The eerie cry filled the air, alerting families living by the beach to the great danger just beyond the dunes. Men, women and children emerged from their homes, up onto the sandy mounds and watched in awe and terror as a wall of water higher than the cliffs pushed towards them. The mermaid, from her elevated place on the rock, continued to call out towards the north sea. The people on the beach were hypnotised by this vision of a raging surf poised to rip through their lives. They held their hands to their ears, trying to drown out the sound of the menacing sea and an unseen mermaid's haunting screams.
And then, just as this elemental power seemed poised to crash down upon them, it stopped.
The fisher-folk stood frozen in disbelief at the miracle before them. The tsunami began moving backwards. Within moments, the ocean had reclaimed the angry beast that had risen from its depths and now only a few rough waves hinted at the peril below the surface.
Suddenly aware of the icy rain battering their bodies, the bewildered community hurried back towards their cosy home fires. As families crossed the threshold, into warmth and safety, someone called out and pointed towards the high rock on the beach. There, right on top, was the unmistakable, lifeless form of a mermaid.
The inhabitants of Luna Beach realised immediately it was her calls that had saved them all. A few people had claimed they'd seen the fish-tailed woman swimming in the sea and now they all knew for sure that they hadn't imagined her.
Eventually, the unexpected, early winter turned the frozen mermaid from ice to an alchemy of silver and grey stone, bright even in darkness and forever enshrined on the far edge of Luna Beach.
Much later, when the world would be unrecognisable to those who'd stood on Luna Beach that day, educated men would claim that The Mermaid Rock was created from nothing more than a million years of coastal storms, volcanic rock chiseled and welded by sharp winds and ice rains, a geological wonder, its likeness to a mythical sea creature nothing more than a coincidence.
A few days after the storm, in a small inlet several miles up the coast near Aberdeen, a ship-wreck had been discovered. All on board had perished. The locals there were bemused by this giant boat and the shiny treasures on board. They wondered where this exotic, unfortunate people had come from and why they might be sailing in these waters during the worst storm in memory. Nevertheless, as tides ebbed and flowed, the inhabitants of Luna Beach soon returned their attention to the simple rituals of daily life.
Seasons passed, but inevitably, on an otherwise ordinary day, another ship was seen on the horizon. This time, it arrived safely, bringing with it voyagers who talked of unimaginable riches, an easier life and a more profitable way of fishing the seas. They also brought with them dark superstitions and rituals to protect fisher-folk from the sea-witches and demons they claimed were threatening the bright future of man.
And so, a new age began on the coast of Scotland. A time when people wanted dominion over the oceans. Reverence for the sea and its magical creatures, including the mer-folk, turned to fear. Every day, the people learned to take more from the ocean, afraid that one day it might defeat them in battle. The more man took from the sea, the less there was to find. They were forced to move further from shore. They plunged to much greater depths. Each trip became more perilous, bigger ships were built and with them, the crew punched onwards. Every day more men and sea-creatures were lost forever. Some of the coastal people, believing what they'd been told by their new ship masters, blamed their misfortune on bad omens, perhaps the sighting of a selkie or the distant call of a mermaid.
Still, a handful of people told a different story.
Those who had witnessed the mermaid's power over the sea, and recognised her self sacrifice, shared their tale with any local or drifter willing to listen. The story rippled out into the world beyond the dunes and soon, a few people came to worship her as the guardian of Luna Beach, climbing up to touch her tail for luck. Indeed, it seemed that some who were drawn to the Mermaid Rock understood far more about her story than others. They appeared to be gifted with special knowledge, sharing myths about mer-folk leaving the oceans for a life on the land and prophecies of greedy men who would destroy the coastliners traditional way of life. They were eager to keep this fate from the people of St Luna, teaching kin-ship and respect for the balance between humanity and the creatures of the ocean. Meanwhile, others began to wonder if descendants of the mer-folk truly were walking amongst them and not all were comfortable with this notion. A thick haar of fear and superstition crept into the community of Luna Beach. A dark moon had risen, its influence was unseen but powerful. It seemed nothing could prevent this turning of the tide. The mermaid's courage would surely drift beyond memory and the mer-folks prophecies would ultimately be fulfilled.
Yet, despite the changes and challenges that swept along those rugged shores in the ensuing years, the enchanting, distinctive shape of the mermaid on the rock, ever present at the edge of Luna Beach, ensured that a glistening light of truth endured.
Old fisherman and fish wives, sitting in quiet corners of The Three Bottles Inn, their tongues loosened with a few warming whiskies, still share whispers about the legend of The Mermaid Rock. She, who sacrificed herself for the people living in the dunes behind Luna Beach. They say that the piercing call of a mermaid can still be heard echoing against the rocky cliffs in the moments before a storm. Always there, watching over her sea, protecting Luna Beach and the people of St Luna. They say the mermaid is a guardian of the coast who, to this day, helps lost souls hear their own inner voice and discover their true destiny.
They remember, what many have forgotten: surf and soil, man and mermaids, time and tide will always be divinely entwined, seeking to fulfil nature's perfect harmony, just as surely as the sea meets the sand.
© Words and Copyright: Vicky Watt
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